USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service, FAS, Agricultural Trade Office (ATO) in Miami, hereinafter referred to as “FAS Miami” reports that hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic (both in terms of public health and economic performance), the
tourism-dependent Caribbean is anxiously awaiting a return to more normal times characterized by growing tourist arrivals, which in many ways are the economic lifeblood of the region.
The Caribbean Basin is a large and highly fragmented
region of the Americas. It is a mix of independent states, overseas departments or dependencies of European countries, and islands that are part of a European kingdom. The region has 4.6 million inhabitants, of which two thirds are concentrated
in five markets: Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Guadeloupe, Martinique and The Bahamas. The population is incredibly diverse and is made up of descendants from original native tribes that inhabited the region and people of African, European, Indian,
Middle Eastern, and Chinese descent, among others.
Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ranges from US$710 million in Dominica to US$33.2 billion in Trinidad and Tobago. GDP per capita ranges from US$9,900 in Dominica to US$81,800 in Bermuda.
The economy of Trinidad and Tobago, by far the largest in the region, is based mainly on oil and natural gas. In Guyana, where one of the largest new discoveries of oil in the world was recently made, the country is also banking on oil to propel
its economy forward and serve as a catalyst for much needed development.
In practically all other Caribbean markets, tourism is the driving force behind island economies in terms of revenue generation, employment, and overall
economic well-being. Approximately eight million stopover tourists and 14 million cruise ship passengers visit the region annually. Tourists, particularly stopover visitors, fuel demand for consumer–oriented agricultural products.
U.S. exporters, who supply roughly half of all agricultural products to the Caribbean, saw their sales to the region decline by 10% in 2020. To the extent the pandemic is brought under control and tourists return to the Caribbean in
bigger numbers, economic recovery will gain momentum. U.S. exports of agricultural products totaled US$4.4 billion in 2021, a strong increase of 21% over the prior year. US$2.6 billion were of the consumer oriented variety, which was 59%
of the agricultural total. The region also imported over US$1.5 billion in processed food products in 2021, which is an increase of 10%.
Top U.S. processed food products exported to the Caribbean in 2021 included:
- Food Preparations & Ingredients
- Non-Alcoholic Beverages
- Processed/Prepared Dairy Products
- Alcoholic Beverages
- Fats & Oils
- Snack Foods
- Prepared/Preserved Meats
- Condiments & Sauces, Jams & Jellies
The Caribbean is a natural market for U.S. exporters. Caribbean importers have a long history of doing business with the U.S. Their strong interest in U.S. products is mainly due to close proximity, long-standing reputation of high quality
products, and superior quality of service. In fact, many local importers have noted that competitors are not able to match their U.S. counterparts in terms of product quality and reliability. The regulatory environment in the islands is
also quite receptive toward U.S. products. Given these favorable conditions, it is no surprise that the U.S. is the largest supplier of food products to the Caribbean.
A crucial part of doing business with Caribbean importers is building
a relationship with a consolidator in South Florida (and in New York/New Jersey for those seeking to export to Bermuda). Since some large resorts and supermarket chains often order larger shipments directly from suppliers, the main resource
for small and medium-sized U.S. suppliers are local importers/wholesalers. These importers/wholesalers will work with prospective U.S. suppliers to meet local standards and regulations and find the best distribution channel. They are also
likely to stay informed of changing regulations and duties on food and beverage products.
U.S. brands are well recognized and in high demand by Caribbean consumers. Exposure to U.S. food and culture through television, travel, and U.S.
food franchises present in the region greatly influence local preferences. Furthermore, due to increased access to technology and social media, Caribbean consumers (particularly the younger generations) keep up-to-date with the latest consumer
trends taking place in the United States and around world. This, in turn, further influences consumer preferences.